Barcelona is a city with strongly independent roots. It might be known as Spain’s second city–to capital Madrid–but any resident of the city will tell you that Barcelona is second to none. They have a fierce regional pride. The Catalan (local) flag flies everywhere. The Catalan people have their own dishes, culture and even language. Yes, I learned the hard way that while my Spanish could get me by in most of Spain, I could not understand anyone in Barcelona. Despite all of this, however, I found the people of Barcelona to be just as friendly as anywhere else we went in Spain. In fact, Barcelona was my favorite city in Spain–don’t tell Madrid.
On our first day in Barcelona, we strolled down the Ramblas (a wide, pedestrian boulevard), stopping at La Boquería market for breakfast. La Boquería is a huge, covered local market offering up everything from fresh fruit stands to butchers to mini-restaurants. After filling up on fresh fruit smoothies and eggs cooked to order, we headed off to visit the Gaudí sights of Barcelona for the day.
It felt like everywhere we went in Barcelona we heard the name Gaudí. Antonio Gaudí (1852 – 1926) was a Spanish artist and architect who was a part of the Catalan Modernisme movement. Modernisme was a cultural movement and is best known for its influence on architecture. Gaudi’s work was inspired by nature and God. His footprint can be found all over Barcelona from his first work–the lampposts in Placa Reial–to Casa Milà, Casa Batllò, the Block of Discord, and Parc Güell, just to name a few. Gaudí’s final, culminating–and most famous–work is still under construction, Sagrada Família Church.
First, we headed to the Block of Discord. Home to several mansions in the modernisme style; it was nicknamed the block of discord because it looked as if each one was trying to out-do the other. Next, we walked over to nearby Casa Milà. Case Milà was a Gaudí-designed apartment building complete with the most fanciful roof I’d ever see. Constructed between 1906 and 1910, Gaudí seemed to have challenged himself to see how few straight lines he could use on the project. We toured the central courtyard, top floor, attic and roof. The top floor had a finished apartment which showed what the complex would have looked like furnished at the time of its construction, and the attic housed an exhibition of Gaudí’s drawings, photos, models and videos of his buildings. The roof was the highlight of the complex. It was covered with 30 fanciful chimneys that were hard to even describe–they looked like a cross between a medieval knight and a skeleton.
After that, we were off to the Sagrada Família Church, the most visited sight in Spain. Sagrada Família was Gaudí’s culminating masterpiece, the epitome of modernisme. He worked on it for over 40 years of his life, recognizing that he would never see its completion. In fact, it is still very much under construction today. Gaudí left behind future plans for the church’s construction; unfortunately, many of them were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. It was by far our favorite site in Spain. The level of detail put into every aspect of the church is breathtaking. You could visit 100 times and still see something different each time.
Finally, we headed over to Park Güell. Parc Güell was a 30 acre garden designed by Gaudí. It was originally intended as a planned neighborhood for the rich, but it never quite took off. The park had some great views of the city, as well as many hidden nature-inspired designs interspersed throughout the grounds. It was a perfect place to wander aimlessly, discovering something new around every bend.
After a long day of sightseeing, we headed to Ciudad Condal, a tapas restaurant recommended to us by a local. The variety of options bordered on overwhelming, but we took on the challenge! We managed to try a lot of menu items there over our short stay in Barcelona, but our favorite tapas were the potato croquettes, aubergines (eggplant), potato omelet, brie covered with peanuts and strawberry sauce, and zucchini flowers stuffed with goat cheese. Washed down with a pitcher of sangria, it was the perfect meal. After, we worked off some of our dinner during our evening paseo around the Placa de Catalunya, a central city square. The paseo is a Spanish tradition–a leisurely evening stroll with no real destination in mind. I found in pretty much every city we visited in Spain that the locals enjoyed this tradition nightly.
On our second day, we headed back to La Boquería for breakfast in the morning and then off to the nearby Barri Gòtic Neighborhood to wander the picturesque streets and visit the Cathedral. The huge, 14th century Cathedral was about as different as you could get from Sagrada Familia Church! With its austere, traditional feel; long city history; and duck-filled cloister, it was definitely worth a peek (free before noon). This section of the city had a very contrasting mix of 14th and 15th century buildings and modern-day luxury (restaurants, bars, shopping). It also held one of my favorite little shopping streets, the pedestrianized Avinguda Portal de l’Angel.
In the afternoon, we headed to the beach for some well deserved relaxation. We found the sandy beaches of Barcelona to be less crowded than expected and great for kicking back for a few hours under a rented umbrella. Even on the beach, there’s something to see in Barcelona. From our spot on the sand, we could gaze at Frank Gehry’s famous Fish sculpture from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
In the late afternoon, we headed over to Placa d’Espanya, one of the city’s most important squares. It is also one of the city’s biggest squares–Placa d’Espanya houses the National Palace, two Venetian Towers, a fountain, and Arenas de Barcelona (a former bull ring which is now a shopping center). The National Palace is home of the very famous Catalan Art Museum, but we didn’t get a chance to visit its galleries on this trip. The palace was worth visiting for the exterior alone, though.
After another great day in Barcelona, we headed back to our favorite restaurant to claim our spot at the bar for another round of sangria and tapas. Even after only a few days we already felt at home in Barcelona. Later, we ended our trip with a final stroll down the Ramblas to take in the sights and sounds of the city in the relaxed nighttime atmosphere one last time. In the twilight, we tourists seamlessly blended together with the locals all enjoying just another evening paseo. For more information on how to plan your entire trip to Barcelona, skip the lines, and get the most out of your adventures, click here to view our detailed Barcelona city planning guide!